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INSTITUTE OF MUSLIM MINORITY AFFAIRS. Incorporated in London in 1983, the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (IMMA) is an independent body with the objective of studying the conditions of life of Muslim minority communities wherever they reside. In order to fulfill its mandate the IMMA has invited and encouraged research and investigations on minority communities ranging from such large ones as those in India, the former Soviet Union, and China to small ones in the Pacific, such as the twenty-member strong community on Tonga Island. Still, it cannot be claimed that all Muslim minority communities have been discovered and studied or that all aspects of existing minority communities have been examined and explored. With the constantly varying dimensions of the minority phenomenon and the ever-changing horizons and boundaries, the research must go on, albeit at an accelerated pace.

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One of the most notable achievements of the IMMA has been the initiation of communication with other religious groups with regard to their principles and values in the treatment of Muslim minorities. It has been observed that even in societies where political constitutions included fair and liberal guidelines for the treatment of minorities and other disadvantaged groups, these provisions only implied legal and constitutional protection, whereas the attitudes of people in their daily life was actually conditioned by other factors. Legal and constitutional guarantees do not mean much when public sentiment remains hostile.

For these reasons, in 1985 the IMMA inaugurated a regular section in its periodical publication, the,7IMMA (journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs), under the heading of “Dialogue,” and invited experts from different religious traditions to express their ideas and insights about the concept of human rights and minority rights in their respective traditions. In order to feed this section with regular, diverse, and quality input, the IMMA established a wide network of contacts with scholars and institutions in many countries where Muslim minority issues were pertinent and persistent, encouraging them to use the pages of the,7IMMA for mutual understanding through sharing of views and exchange of grievances, and so forth.

Even though tangible achievements are difficult to measure, one indisputable advantage that has accrued from this initiative of the IMMA is the communication that has taken place between formerly contending religious groups. In the past the religious encounter has been characterized by hostility, accusations, and counteraccusations. There had been few occasions where Muslims and non-Muslims could engage in sober peaceful debate. What the IMMA did was to bring the two sides together on the same platform, not as gladiators but as dialoguers. The Dialogue section was open to all, Muslims and non-Muslims. Great effort is constantly exercised that the debate never descends to dissension or denunciation.

Reciprocally, besides having non-Muslims being able to express themselves in the 3`IMMA, the IMMA had access to non-Muslim religious forums, so that the Muslim point of view in regard to the rights and privileges of minorities in the Islamic tradition could be calmly and rationally presented on non-Muslim religious platforms. This has enabled non-Muslims to become familiar with Muslim positions and enabled Muslims to become acquainted with non-Muslim positions.

Although the IMMA has given effective expression to the problems faced by Muslim minorities in nonMuslim societies, it also recognizes that there are significant numbers of non-Muslims who live as minorities in Muslim societies. In 1985, therefore, efforts were made to take cognizance of how non-Muslim minorities were being treated in Muslim states. There followed spirited debate through articles and commentaries on the subject of al-dhimmi (protected non-Muslims) in Islam, and that process still continues. The IMMA has called for self-examination on the part of Muslim majority states. It has opened its forum for the use of nonMuslim minorities living in Muslim states to engage in a dialogue with their Muslim majorities, thus providing an opportunity for peaceful and perhaps productive exchange.

The point of view of non-Muslim minorities is being articulated perhaps for the first time in a cool debate. This exchange of ideas and opinion is likely to lead to growth of understanding and goodwill. Muslim majorities have been enabled to bypass the adversarial accusations and counteraccusations and through dialogue to get to know, and perhaps get more confidence in the intentions and sincerity of, the ideologically marginal components of their, society.

Another major objective of the IMMA has been to internationalize the issue of Muslim minorities, that is, to get scholars, individuals, and organizations and official agencies to become aware of the nature of the Muslim minority problem, and to take interest in it; not necessarily as partisans, but as people of conscience with a quest for knowledge, justice, and fair play. However, it was first necessary to know where these people were and what these organizations were about.

Hence, soon after the IMMA was formed, it started collecting information about people around the world who were interested in minority issues, both Muslim and non-Muslim, from various sources-reference books, journals, magazines, personal contacts, and so forth. The IMMA was cognizant of the fact that many distinguished Muslim scholars (historians, political scientists, economists, sociologists, and other professionals) were widely dispersed not only in Muslim countries, but perhaps more so in Western countries. Most of them had no links outside their professional circles and generally none with Muslim national and international organizations. Because of this, their talent and expertise was lost to the Muslim ummah (community) and the Muslim organizations were constrained to operate from a limited human resource pool.

As a result of the IMMA’s efforts a significant number of these Muslim professionals are now taking an active interest in minority studies. They make scholarly contributions to the,7IMMA and readily attend seminars and conferences organized by the IMMA. For some of these scholars, this was the first time that they have appeared on a Muslim forum.

Currently, the IMMA has put together a list of ten thousand names of scholars from all over the world who are interested in minority affairs. This list is categorized and computerized. Perhaps no other organization has such a comprehensive human resource file.

The IMMA currently has in preparation another list of three thousand names which include Muslim national and international organizations, Muslim scholars currently in the field of minority affairs, and many nonMuslim national and international organizations as well as minority studies experts with whom IMMA has established direct and recurrent contact.

The third major objective of the IMMA related to the Muslim minorities in particular and the Muslim world in general can be termed a “home mission.” On the one hand, the IMMA addressed itself directly to the Muslim minorities, urging them to focus inward and to try to analyze the nature of their predicament and understand it objectively and instead of waiting for outside support seek to solve their problems with the help of their own resources, ingenuity, and diplomatic skills. On the other hand, the IMMA addressed the Muslim ummah in Muslim majority countries at two levels: to persuade the intellectuals in these countries to study and define the Islamic concepts of social import, such as ummah, da’wah (the call), and the concept of Muslim man; and to redefine the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in modern pluralistic societies where ddr al-h, arb (nonMuslim lands) and ddr al-Islam (Muslim lands) have coalesced within the same political and social unit.

The interreligious encounter for Muslim minorities is a practical reality. They suffer in silence and isolation or resolve with guilt and integration. For the Muslim

majorities it is but a distant and abstract challenge. Yet they could lead the way for discussion and the removal of the notion that Islam makes no distinction between situations where Muslims are dominant and situations where Muslims live as minorities with peoples of other faiths and philosophies. Perhaps then could the minorities living among non-Muslims participate with enthusiasm in the life of their societies, achieve economic and material consolidation, and thus escape the grinding poverty and backwardness which their self-imposed alienation has further aggravated, and at the same time maintain their Islamic identity.

The Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs declared through the pages of its journal its basic approach to the study of Muslim minority problems, both for the resolution of the minority crisis and the identification of the majority options, an approach that also guides the policy of its research and publications organs, the JIMMA, and the book series: “as we conceive it, the minority problem is not a one way street. Our responsibility does not end with making a statement. The statement is designed to elicit a response. . . . So that we not only speak, we also listen. Hopefully, this speaking and listening will be carried on in a spirit of compassion and tolerance. And we commit ourselves to making this possible.” (“A Word about Ourselves,” -7ournal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs 5.1 [1983]: 5-6).

[See also Minorities, article on Muslim Minorities in non-Muslim Societies.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abedin, Syed Z. “A Word about Ourselves.” journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs 13. t (January 1992): t-25. Written in the spirit of a “state of the union message,” this article identifies problems faced by Muslim minorities and takes a long-term perspective, suggesting programs and policies for implementation.

SYED Z. ABEDIN and SALEHA M. ABEDIN

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/institute-of-muslim-minority-affairs/
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